About a week after graduation, I flew to Nepal with Mr. Nick (my high school American history teacher), his wife A.B. and his son Eric M., Eric C. (a former vice principal at my high school), Amaris and Alex (classmates from high school), and Sarah (who went to my high school and now to my college!).
After some 20 hours of flying and 15 hours of layovers, we finally arrived safe and sound in Kathmandu and checked into our guest house (http://www.tibetguesthouse.com). The guest house and the surrounding areas are pretty cool – we walked around a bit. The bad news was that my bag got lost in transit, so I only had the things I was wearing and the things in my day pack. The good news was that all the most crucial things I needed for the trip were with me.
Our first day we had dinner at a traditional Nepalese restaurant near the Royal Palace, the former residence of the man formerly known as the King of Nepal. It was a lot of fun! They served traditional food, a lot of which is very similar to Indian food – curries, rice, etc. I enjoyed most of it, but not all (the dessert was a yogurt with fruit in it that just tasted sour to me). The best part was that they had a band playing music with dancers performing dances from various ethnic groups in Nepal, all in costume. My favorite was the Yeti dance. 🙂
Our second day in Kathmandu started with a morning trip to Swayambhunath Stupa, the oldest Buddhist holy site in the Kathmandu valley. We walked there through the city, which was very muddy since it stormed during the night (the thunder even woke me up a couple of times!). The temple itself is on top of a hill probably 600 feet above the street below, with some 350 very steep steps to climb to reach it. Very interesting.
The steps and the top of the hill are populated by vendors trying to sell their wares… sometimes very forcibly and persistently. A.B. was more or less attacked by this one woman selling bracelets who wouldn’t leave her alone for over twenty minutes; A.B. finally gave in and bought some bracelets just so she would go away. The more friendly and cuter inhabitants of the temple are the many groups of rhesus monkeys who frolic around…and sometimes try to steal things from you. A.B. would have lost her water bottle if Mr. Nick hadn’t quickly snatched back from the monkey who had appeared out of nowhere to take it. Erik and Eric also saw a woman pull out a plaintain to share with her daughter who was then swarmed by about twenty monkeys. She dropped the plaintain in terror.
The next day we went on a sightseeing whirlwind, hitting a ton of the major temples and sights with our guide Bina, a native Nepali of Newari descent. (The Newari are one of the many ethnic groups that make up the Nepali people; Sherpas and their cousins the Tamang are others. Our trek guide Saila was Tamang.) Bina was very nice and put up with all our silly (and serious) questions. We went to Patan, a smaller but very old town on the outskirts of Kathmandu, where we saw several Buddhist and Hindu temples. The temples tended to be very elaborately carved, and occasionally featured some impressive erotic carvings. One temple, the Mahabuddha temple, had a thousand carvings of Buddha; another, the Golden Temple, was almost entirely finished in gold.
The Pashputinath Temple is both temple and crematorium. The Hindu Nepalis cremate a lot of their dead by the river Bagmati at the base of the temple (though small children, pregnant women, and holy men of the highest orders are buried nearby.) The temple interior has been off-limits to all non-Hindus since the Muslims invaded the country over 500 years again and destroyed all the temples looking for loot. Many, many people were there, including holy men painted all over their bodies with dreadlocks, a very different sight from Buddhist monks and nuns.
Lastly we went to Patan’s Durbar Square, the sight of many temples and palaces. (Patan is technically a different city from Kathmandu, but in reality it just seems like one district of many.) One temple was created by a Rana king (prime ministers who essentially took all power) to emulate the Greco-Roman architecture he saw in Great Britain. It certainly looked out of place. We also saw the Kumari Ghar, the house of the Patan Kumari. The Kumari is a young girl worshipped as a living goddess. She is chosen for both perfection and complete lack of fear, usually around the age of 2 or 3. She remains the Kumari until she gains an imperfection – a cut that bleeds, a tooth taken out, menstrual cycles, etc. Then a new Kumari is chosen. The Kumari does not leave the Ghar except for a few times a year nor can she appear at a window until after 4pm. She is traditionally highly revered by both the people and the king (though as the kingship no longer exists, now she alone is revered by the people…). Kathmandu has a different Kumari.
We flew into Lukla on June 30th after being delayed a day because of the weather. The airport in Lukla has no hangars and is completely dependent on traffic from Kathmandu, because the runway is only 1500 feet long, at an altitude of 9000 feet, and ends in a sheer cliff face. If there are clouds, no planes land in Lukla….
From Lukla we hiked to Manjo, then to Namche Bazar for a rest day. From there we went to Phortse, then Pheriche with another rest day. After Pheriche most of us hiked up to Lobuche, but Mr. Nick and his son Eric went down to Tengboche because Mr. N was suffering from severe symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness aka AMS aka altitude sickness. At Lobuche – 16,000+ feet in altitude – I was struck down by AMS, so I stayed at Lobuche to nurse my headache. The remaining five people went onto Kala Patar, where they saw marvelous Mount Everest. Then only two remained to go to Everest Base Camp (which is actually nowhere near Everest, and there’s no view), because three people came back to Lobuche to hang with me! Then we all trekked back to Lukla via Tengboche and Manjo. We probably averaged over 5 miles a day on very UP then DOWN and AGAIN trails… if you know what I mean. I think we all lost about ten pounds, if not more. It looked like I wasn’t going to see Everest, because it’s tucked away in such a way that you can only see it from a few very limited angles, but then lo! Tengboche had an amazing view of the mountain, and I got to see it after all.
The food was pretty much the same everywhere we went – eggs, potatoes, rice, chow mein, lentils. Few vegetables, no meat. All that differed was the quality. We drank lots and lots of tea, and hot chocolate was always quite the treat. Our last night of trekking, in Lukla, I discovered that they had a dish called the Khumbu Glacier Melt… aka deep fried snickers bar. It was amazing! Of course, that might have been because it was something different for the first time in a couple of weeks.
The people are very nice. Our two guides, Saila and KB, were awesome. I think meeting and getting to know them was my absolute favorite part of the trip. We ate at Saila’s restaurant in Kathmandu tonight and it was so much fun! Great food, and just hanging out with Saila and KB was nice.
Our last few days had us visiting a temple or two before indulging in shopping and eating in restaurants that had different menus from all the ones on the trek.
And after some 30+ hours of traveling, I walked out of U.S. Customs and into Max’s arms – the perfect way to end a trip!